This polymer coating converts the normal bipolar actuation of carbon nanotube yarns to unipolar actuation, where the muscle actuates in one direction over the entire stability range of the electrolyte. This long-sought behavior has surprising consequences that make electrochemical carbon nanotube muscles much faster and more powerful.
The advances provide electrochemical unipolar muscles that contract to generate a maximum average output mechanical power per muscle weight of 2.9 watts/gram, which is about 10 times the typical capability of human muscle and about 2.2 times the weight-normalized power capability of a turbocharged V-8 diesel engine.
Above – This scanning electron microscope image shows a coiled unipolar muscle made from carbon nanotubes and coated with poly(sodium 4-styrenesulfonate). The outer coil diameter is approximately 140 microns, about twice that of a human hair.
For more than 15 years, researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and their collaborators in the U.S., Australia, South Korea and China have fabricated artificial muscles by twisting and coiling carbon nanotube or polymer yarns. When thermally powered, these muscles actuate by contracting their length when heated and returning to their initial length when cooled. Such thermally driven artificial muscles, however, have limitations.
Electrochemically driven carbon nanotube (CNT) muscles provide an alternative approach to meet the growing need for fast, powerful, large-stroke artificial muscles for applications ranging from robotics and heart pumps to morphing clothing.